Excuse me, I was promised another episode here. Maybe two.
I hate this episode for being as good as it is. It makes me think of all the mediocrity that could’ve been thrown away in the name of expanding on the ideas presented here. Like “The Gathering,” this is the punch of WHY DIDN’T WE FOCUS ON THIS? At least Demona gets to come back for the finale, with something like a satisfying conclusion to her character arc.
I’m always going to be a little bit bitter, okay.
This episode reintroduces Demona, who is mid-heist on some vague but probably insidious technology. You may recall that we haven’t seen her for….oh, a dozen and a half episodes now, and the last time we did she was deluding herself about Thailog’s trustworthiness. Yeah, while we’re at it, remember Thailog?
Sorry, I’m getting angry about the World Tour again. Anyway.
Demona is suspiciously easily captured, and since there’s that whole “human during the day” problem to contend with, they need help in keeping her contained. Enter Talon and the Labyrinth, which has some suitable holding cells. Angela, not about to let the opportunity go to waste, insists on being heavily involved with watch duty. And I’ll be damned if every scene between Demona and Angela isn’t utterly engrossing, few though they are. The tension of both characters wanting to be understood while having certain incompatible stances lends a heartbreaking quality well conveyed by their talented actors. Alas, we see only a few of these moments in the apparent months that Demona allows herself to be kept prisoner in the maze beneath the city.
Because of course she’s a plant. She’s been releasing tiny mechanical mosquitos (just roll with it) to take DNA from her guards, so that Thailog can have Sevarius grow him a whole clone clan. And here is where the episode kind of runs into trouble. By the time the climax comes along, after Thailog has come along to break Demona out of her cell and they’ve orchestrated a whole showdown at an abandoned amusement park and I start having all of the flashbacks, there is too damn much going on. There are no less than a dozen characters involved in the big confrontation. And that’s not necessarily bad, IF the plot threads here had been given a chance to flourish over the two-parter it clearly should’ve been. Demona and Angela’s relationship is fascinating and painful, and even in this truncated form Marina Sirtis wrings beautiful poignancy from her final lines to Thailog, when it would seem she has prepared to sacrifice herself.
So in 20 minutes we have the return of Sevarius, Thailog, and Demona; Demona’s relationship with Angela and what that means for both sides, several competing views of the meaning of clan, family, and loyalty; a cloning machination and another stuffed in tertiary villain face-off. And while the episode functions with all this, it’s forced to skim on one-to-one episodes that could have easily yielded character studies on the level with the show’s very best episodes. Certainly it’s the first time in ages Angela has been given a true chance to shine, despite being the best gargoyle pretty wonderful. And the ending of the episode teases at all kinds of new beginnings after reintroducing all these characters and leaving a whole bunch of dangling plot threads. And the biggest waste of all is Delilah, a character jam packed with all kinds of horrific character implications who shows up for about two seconds and whose fight with Angela occurs more or less completely offscreen. So that’s that potential kicked to the side.
Did I mention next week we’re starting into the series finale?
There are two ways to look at this episode: one in which it is quite good, and one in which it is frustrating beyond belief. The second is arguably peripheral, so let’s start with the meatiest content.
This episode features the return of Coldstone, who you might remember as having gone off to nobly fight a battle of inner demons forever and a half ago. Xanatos, trying to repay his debt to Goliath for the whole Gathering business, has recaptured Coldstone and brought him to the lab, intending to make bodies for each of the personalities. Because the original reanimation process involved not just science but sorcery, things haven’t been getting too far. Oh, if only there weren’t those pesky limiters on Puck’s powers, this would all be done much quicker.
So saying, Xanatos and Fox head out for date night, and Owen is left to a night of teaching with baby Alex. Thus do they concoct a plan to spirit Coldstone from the lab back to the Clock Tower, disguised as Goliath and Hudson, and start swapping souls around. Othello and Desdemona wind up inhabiting the bodies of Angela and Broadway (in another world, this would be foreshadowing), while Brooklyn gets stuck with Iago’s spirit possessing him. And then Puck sort of decides that’s good enough for a while and leaves them to it, claiming he needs to rest after doing all that heavy spell lifting.
So the gargoyles have some time to enjoy being back in mortal bodies, and there’s much ado about how it might be nice to actually kind of keep the flesh vessels they’d been borrowing. And the REST of the episode is a game of who’s pretending to be who, eventually culminating in everyone being lured back to Xanatos’ lab to ooh and ah over the super cool robot bodies Xanatos was building for “Coldfire” (Desdemona) and “Coldsteel” (Iago). So cool are these robots that Iago laments having stolen Brooklyn’s body at all, and that’s all it takes. See, soul transfers require that the host be willing to make the swap, necessitating all of this subterfuge and shenanigans rather than just making the robots the first stop. That, and because Puck thought it would be fun.
Hearing all this spelled out brings the other two spirits to their senses as well, and they give up their borrowed forms to return to the cold, unfeeling robot bodies (with the spell worked by Alex, using Lexington’s body – poor Lex gets put through the wringer this episode, all for the crime of being the most observant member of the cast). And also to chase after Coldsteel, who just kind of peaced out with his self-repairing robot body. Xanatos apparently didn’t feel the need to build a killswitch in there. Hey, he did the good deed. Not his problem anymore. They resolve to return, really for real this time, when their duty is done, setting up a return conflict that will never come to pass.
So as I said, there are two levels of plot going on here. And the Coldstone stuff, the primary substance of the episode, is really good. It makes sense as the next evolution of where we last saw the characters and raises the stakes within the established rules of Coldstone’s creation and existence. The possession angle also allows most of the cast, but particularly Bennett, Fagerbakke, and Bako to have some fun with some complicated notes of voices-inside-voices. The subterfuge too is all presented with clear visual coding to keep the audience from getting lost, a critical element in stories that rely on characters impersonating one another. All of that is really, really good, and aside of that ending hook it even works as a sendoff for the characters. Of all the last minute reintroductions, this is by far the best one.
The other element, the hair tearing one, involves the Xanatos family. You may recall in our discussion of “The Gathering” the issue that this shift in Xanatos’ character to pseudo-good guy comes way, way too late in the series and winds up with pacing issues that do a serious blow to a decent idea. Well, here they’re just straight up skipping steps in the writing process. It’s believable that Xanatos would, at this stage in his development, think about his debt to Goliath as a sort of trade of goods and services – hence the WELP NOT MY PROBLEM element of Coldsteel. It’s a believably ruthless first step that the episode is sort of hoping we’ll take as more genuine philanthropy by not questioning it in a way the script most certainly would if it weren’t bearing down on the finale.
And the other element is the completely glossed over – and very, very necessary – step of how Owen-as-Puck became a normalized part of the Xanatos family. As written, it makes it seem as though Xanatos is now aware of Puck and wishing he could take advantage of that in working his plans. But we know that isn’t true, since Puck offered his “one wish or a lifetime of service” deal some time ago – at least before the Gathering, and possibly before Xanatos even married Fox. It’s a clunky move that reads as the writers just being glad they can talk about the twist openly now. More disturbing is the fact that Puck now seems completely chill with this whole arrangement. The one where he’s cut off from his magic except when teaching, and might well be mortal now. Even when he’s alone. Just, uh, just on board with that. And Alex apparently has enough grasp of language that he can speak spells when inhabiting an older body (is that his fae heritage, cause that’s sure not how infants work). For a show that took great pride in both showing the logic of its magic and character progression, there are some lazy, lazy shortcuts being taken here; and an entire episode spent considering the fallout of Alex’s training, the in-laws on Avalon, Xanatos’ moral dilemma, literally anything to do with discussing the Owen/Puck thing amongst the family members….I could go on. Hell, those elements could even have been slipped as bite-sized chunks between “The Gathering” and this one, in a world where the episodes were better paced out.
And look, I know that the issue of cancellation means having to curtail certain plans and work with what you have. And that the show did indeed get its continuation of sorts with a completely different writing staff, which certainly indicates a level of poor treatment from the Disney staff – it’s entirely possible there was an element of blindsiding at work. But right up until it hits that wall the show keeps writing as though it’s architecting a far bigger structure than it has time for. And it’s sacrificing detail in the name of just cramming everything in, which seems the poorer choice. There is an interesting and varied cast to the show, yes, but their roundedness is what made them special. Losing that at the end, after so many episodes thrown away on world building that never got used in a meaningful way, seems a final indignity.